Bonnie Bishop, a veteran of the Texas Americana circuits, made her national debut on October 9 with her debut album Free and gave the world reason to take note of her superior vocal talent and innovative writing style, tinged with brutal honesty and hope. Bishop’s raspy voice perfectly fits her mature writing style, telling her own story of survival, redemption, forgiveness, self-love and spiritual rebirth. Armed with top Nashville sidemen and seven quality songs, Bishop breaks free, her music reflecting her experiences that “taught [her] humility and personal accountability.”
Anchored by the fat sound of Steve Mackey’s bass and Jimmy Wallace’s driving piano part, the album opens with “Keep on Using Me,” a story of frustration about love turning into abuse. The masterpiece of the album is unquestionably the title track, “Free.” Bishop’s voice soars above the gospel-influenced ballad, the gorgeous piano work and string arrangements. Speaking of Bishop’s vocal performance, it’s easy to understand from this tune why Bishop was nominated for Vocal Performance of the Year at the Lone Star Music Awards. “Bad Seed” is a driving rock tune, reminiscent of a Southern fried version of the heartland rock of John Mellencamp and Bob Seger. “World Like This” and “Best Songs Come From Broken Hearts” are exceptionally strong performances and beautiful songs that invite the listener to look deep into his or her own soul, and ask what we can learn from our own fears, failures and follies. Bishop closes the album with a song of hope, “Right Where You Are,” giving the listener encouragement to move forward: to dance and see beauty in the rain of today and have faith in the sunrise of tomorrow.
The album has a very live feel, which truly engages the listener. The musicians are communicating very well and playing with passion. Engineer John Painter’s work can’t be ignored either. The sound he gets from the drums, the way he blends all the colors together into a masterpiece reflects incredible production talent. There are only a couple minor complaints about the album. First, it’s quite short. With only seven songs and 28 minutes of music, the listener longs to hear more. Of course, the fact that the listener longs for more is also a testament to Bishop’s talent as a musician and writer. Occasionally, Bishop’s songs sound slightly incomplete. They always start strong, but in the case of “Keep Using Me,” this critic feels as though the song never really reaches it’s climax; it builds and fades prematurely. That being said, Bishop’s lyrics are touching and beautiful and her tunes far from ordinary.
Ultimately, Bishop’s debut album is a strong personal statement and an outstanding national debut. Perhaps the best words to describe this album come from the album itself. Bishop, “dig[s] deep within the well of [her] soul/to find the will to sing the words that only [she] know[s]/about going through hell/and living to tell the truth.” Perhaps it is true that the “best songs come from broken hearts.” If so, Ms. Bishop has truly risen from the ashes of her past into a phoenix, singing songs of faith, hope and charity.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
- World Like This
- Best Songs Come From Broken Hearts
- Right Where You Are
The Big Hit
- Right Where You Are
Review by Nik Rodewald